Right at the start of our Q&A, we talked about what it was like for writer-director Rian Johnson to deliver a conclusion for one of the most iconic characters of the galaxy far, far away.
As you know from seeing the film (and if you haven’t, this is your final spoiler warning), Luke demonstrates that there’s much more to the Force than lightsaber swordplay and hurling objects when he manifests a phantom version of himself to confront Kylo Ren in a showdown on the mineral planet of Crait.
Skywalker manages to stall the First Order while the decimated Resistance scrambles away in an escape, and he also pushes the buttons of his volatile Dark Side nephew, promising: “If you strike me down in anger, I will always be with you. Just like your father.”
But of course Kylo Ren can’t strike him down. Luke isn’t really there.
The act of sending a projection of himself across the galaxy so taxes the real Luke Skywalker that he later succumbs and evanesces away while looking out at the binary suns on the horizon – an echo of his younger self from the original 1977 film, staring at the twin suns of Tatooine while dreaming of adventure.
As Luke vanishes, the same theme from John Williams’ original score plays. The Jedi’s journey has ended.
“I had huge hesitance,” Johnson says of ending one of the most beloved characters in movie history. “I was terrified. It was a growing sense of dread when I realized this was going to make sense in that chapter.”
Johnson said he discussed it extensively with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and members of the Star Wars story group before committing to it.
“It was not like I wrote the script and dropped it on their desk. It was very important to me that I was collaborating with the folks at Lucasfilm from the word go,” he said. “I moved to San Francisco for a few months and would go in a few times a week to keep them up to date, spewing my ideas out, especially the big ones.”
“Can’t you wait…?”
Johnson’s goal was creating a finale for Luke “that pushes the audience and thus the character.”
“Well, I’m still in denial,” Hamill joked. “I just think he transported somewhere else.”
“Modern day New York,” Rian added with a laugh. “That was my favorite theory we had.”
During the Q&A, Johnson also pointed out a slight flaw with the vanishing scene. “We were in the other room saying, ‘A steel hand should clunk to the ground.’”
Hamill dealt with the news of his character’s demise in stages of grief. You already heard him express denial. Originally, the actor reacted with bargaining. “The first thing I said was, ‘Can’t you wait and do this in Episode IX?’”
But Johnson said it was necessary to keep the focus on the new characters as the trilogy reached its end. (J.J. Abrams will return to make the next installment, set for release in 2019.)
“I think the hero’s journey of Luke Skywalker concluded in Return of the Jedi. This [trilogy] is the hero’s journey of Rey, and Finn, and Poe,” Johnson said. “The [ongoing] story of Luke is one that has to play in tandem with that of Rey.”
On second viewing, there are many hints that Luke isn’t really there in the final confrontation with Kylo Ren. For one, they never clash lightsabers. Luke ducks and dashes to avoid every blow from the red crossguard sword.
“Exactly, by design,” editor Bob Ducsay said. “There are many small things that would give you some clues as to what’s going on with Luke. He doesn’t make a sound. Nothing ever falls on him. Kylo’s lightsaber interacts with the salt, and Luke’s doesn’t.”
“There are so many little details,” added producer Ram Bergman. “The first time you watch the movie, it’s a little bit overwhelming. But the second time you’re more relaxed, and you can start picking up so many details Rian planted throughout.”
“These movies are engineered to be watched over and over again,” Johnson said.
Hamill added that he sees a hint about Episode IX in Luke’s final words to Kylo Ren.
“I’m just still holding on to the line, ‘See you around, kid.’ I can be in Episode Nine!” Hamill declared to cheers from the crowd. “I might consider catering the film just so I can hang out.”
Thanks to Force ghosts, heroes never really go away.
More post-screening insights (these are heavy spoilers, but if you’ve read this far…)
- Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill on Luke Skywalker’s destiny in The Last Jedi
- The filmmakers explain why Yoda had to return for Luke’s final lesson
- How Carrie Fisher finally gets to wield the Force as Leia Organa
- Did we learn the truth about Rey’s origin?